Benton Harbor Area Schools lay off teachers and administrator

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Benton Harbor Area Schools kept cutting Tuesday night to avoid a state takeover and this time with teacher layoffs. The school board voted to layoff 13 teachers and one administrator.

Many knew the layoffs were coming prior to the meeting. No one spoke about them during the meeting’s allotted time for public comment.
Leonard Seawood, Superintendent of BHAS, said it’s a difficult thing to do.  “Given this type of year, doing layoffs of this type is awful heartbreaking for this district,” he said.
Most of the layoffs will happen when Fair Plain West and Fair Plain Renaissance consolidate with other buildings in the district in January. The administrator layoff will come from one of those schools.
The layoffs are another check off the list for Benton Harbor. The district got a letter of recommended cuts from Michigan State Superintendent Michael Flanagan on Nov. 15, when the state started a review of BHAS finances.
The period of review ends on Dec. 20, and Seawood has said the district needs to show the state that the district’s finances are on track to avoid a state takeover.
Seawood said once the pink slips go out Wednesday, “We will have addressed the majority of the issues.”
Some still wonder what the cost of cutting costs is. “I don’t like the fact they have to let (teachers) go because the kids really do have to learn,” said Vicki Pepple, a grandmother of a Benton Harbor High School student.
Pepple is worried about how big the class sizes will be with fewer teachers in the district. “Those that need attention don’t get attention. It’s not going to help out at all,” she said.
Seawood admitted that some classrooms will have more students but said the district can be more efficient to avoid large class sizes. “We might have a 4th grade class with ten (students) and another with nine. We collapse the two and eliminate a teacher.”
Seawood said these cuts are hard but it’s not over. “This layoff notice we give today will not be the end of it. Today we are still in over our heads and we will still look at ways to handle our financial distress,” he said.
Teacher pay cuts
A teacher concession is one of the state recommendations to the district that has still not been fulfilled. Last week, BHAS asked for a 10% pay cut from the teacher’s union and an increase in teacher’s insurance premium. On Friday, teachers voted down the concession but re-entered into negotiations on Tuesday.
Seawood would not say there what the union is negotiating but did say he was confident that an agreement will be made. Another meeting is scheduled between the two sides on Wednesday.
Even if negotiations are not made with teachers by December 20th, Seawood said he is confident BHAS has done enough to show that things are on track in the district and the state would not need to intervene.
Now with those teacher negotiations… last week teachers voted down a 10 percent paycut and a higher premium on insurance.

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